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Matthew 18:21-35 "The Way of Grace: 70 x 7"

Matthew 18:21-35

The Way of Grace: 70 x 7

Ash Wednesday

February 18, 2015

Consider one of the last times somebody, maybe one of your kids or parents or another family member, wronged you in some way—and then came to you to say they were sorry. How did you respond? If you were in a pleasant, tolerant mood did you say something like “Ah, it’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it. You probably didn’t mean to do it.” If what they did to you was still stuck in your craw, if you were still angry about it when they said they were sorry, did you respond with words like: “Well, you should be sorry. Don’t ever do it again.” Or, perhaps the well worn phrase, “I’ll forgive you but I don’t want to have anything to do with you again.” I want you to consider how you forgive, or fail to forgive others, those in your family, those who are friends, those with whom you work. How are we tempted to respond with either generic words of “It’s OK” or with angry responses? Is that how we want God to respond to us?

In our Gospel lesson, Peter is just starting to realize who Jesus was and why he had come. Peter may have known that other Jewish rabbis of Jesus’ day were telling their followers to forgive people at least three times. Peter may have thought he was being generous by suggesting seven times for forgiveness. But Jesus tells him not seven times—you could keep track of that. No, seventy times seven. Or in spiritual math, forgive and just keep on forgiving.

Now this does not mean that we purposely seek to be martyrs for the cause. But it does mean that when we are sinned against, we seek to forgive and forgive and forgive again—just as our Lord did for us when He gave his life on the cross. Oh, how Peter must have felt guilty when he denied his Lord three times outside in the high priest’s courtyard. But how relieved and comforted he must have felt when he later remembered that Jesus shed his blood to forgive him even of that denial. Jesus doesn’t just stop by saying 70x7. He emphasizes the importance of forgiveness with the parable of the unforgiving servant.

Did you ever notice in the parable that the first servant never actually asks for forgiveness? He owed a huge amount—10,000 talents, like trillions of dollars, more money than any single individual has ever had in the history of the world. But yet he doesn’t ask to be pardoned or to have the debt reduced or to have it forgiven. No, he says “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” He couldn’t pay it back; it wasn’t possible. He had to be forgiven the debt, released from it entirely. But he doesn’t get it. And this poor sucker that owed him 100 denarii—several thousand dollars—was the first to suffer for it.

One of the ironies of the Christian faith is that so many people don’t get it. So many think that we Christians are just here in church telling each other of all the good things we’ve done and how we’ve pleased God with our faithfulness. But that is not what the Christian faith is about— it’s about forgiveness. That is why we come here together, regularly, faithfully—not to please God with our worship—but to receive forgiveness in Jesus Christ. 

We began tonight with the Litany for Ash Wednesday crying out to God much like the servants in the parable, “Lord, have mercy! Spare us! Help us! Hear us! Forgive our debt! Have mercy!”  This is why we are marked with ash tonight, that ancient Biblical symbol of mourning and repentance. We are reminded what we owe-everything, even your life.  We mark ourselves with ashes to how our mourning, our shame, our death. We are dust. We will die because of our sinfulness, because of our unpayable debt!  This is all the world can see as it looks at that smudge of ash upon your head.  And yet that ash is in the shape of the cross, for on that cross your debt was forgiven completely, paid in full by the blood of Jesus.

So yes, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  But also remember that God Himself became man, dust like you, joined to your temptation and suffering so that you may be joined to His death and resurrection. It should always awe us, amaze us, when we realize that the Son of God came into His creation for such a purpose.  When we realize that we are the servant who owes the master trillions in debt and that he has forgiven us without our even first asking for it…well, that should amaze us day after day, week after week. When we realize the volume of forgiveness we’ve received from our Lord, through our Lord, then we are able to forgive others as well, to our family and friends.

And yet we think it so hard to forgive. When the hurt runs deep, the debt owed to so large.  What are you still harboring in your heart, not able to forgive someone else for? Is it against a relative who insulted you at some family event? Is it a friend who manipulated you, or cheated you, or injured you in some way? Is there sin against you larger than 100 denarii? 1000 denarii? How many times have you had to forgive them already? 7, 27, 57 times?

When we refuse to forgive, we show that we have not yet fully understood the forgiveness we have received. Forgiveness is not optional. It is the mark of the Christian life of faith in Christ.  So we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You did not deserve it because your forgiveness, your salvation, is by grace alone.  Your sins are forgiven upon the cross. And so is the world’s.  The sinful world may not receive it well, may choke you for what it feels you owe, but you do not receive the grace of God in vain, but unto life everlasting as His holy people through faith in Christ the crucified. Turn away from your sin, return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love.

*This sermon is an adaption from the series "The Way of Grace" by Concordia Seminary, 2011.

Mark 9:2-9 "The Unveiled God"

Mark 9:2-9

The Unveiled God

Transfiguration Sunday

February 15, 2015

This morning we have come to one of the most important transitional times in the church year.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and so this Sunday we commemorate the Transfiguration of our Lord. Transfiguration is not a minor event, but the apex of the liturgical season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is a season of light and of the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the God. Recall the star that leads the magi to the infant Jesus.  In the transfiguration, a similar light shows the way to Jesus, this time not a star, but the morning star, the Light that is a person, Jesus Christ. We read about Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up upon a high mount and being transfigured before them, Hs clothes become radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.  The glory of the Lord shines in the face of Jesus, revealing who He is. The season of Epiphany now concludes with how it began in Jesus’ baptism, with God the Father speaking, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” Jesus displays His divine glory and to prepare His disciples for His death and resurrection.  This is the revelation, the epiphany, of the glory of the Lord in front of His disciples. 

And so it is for us as well. The glory of the Lord is revealed to us today, that we would be prepared for His death and resurrection.  This is not just so that we would know Jesus, but so that we would know what Jesus has done for us on the cross of Christ, that we would prepare our hearts and minds to receive Him as He reveals Himself to us, both on the Last Day and His great return, as well as through His means of grace.

Though lowly in appearance to the world, we see the glory of God revealed to us in His Word and Sacraments.  To the world, and even to some within Christianity, this seems silly.  It’s just words, just water, just bread and wine.  And so it is these earthly things, but not “just” these things.  Here God hides Himself in the lowly and humble ways so that even the lowliest and most ignorant of sinners might know these are the means where God locates Himself.   

But the world does not see, will not see, cannot see the Lord.  In our Epistle reading from 2 Cor. 3:14–18, St. Paul next uses the figure of the veil to discuss Israel’s present unbelief. As the people of Israel could not see Moses’ face because of the veil, so their minds remain hardened and a veil covers their hearts today as they hear the voice of Jesus in Holy Scripture. Only in Christ is this veil abolished (3:14) and only in repentance is it removed (3:15).

Apart from Jesus there is no belief in God, for no one can know the Father except through the Son.  Why do some people not believe? Those on the road to condemnation are blinded by the god of this age and so do not see the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (4:3–4). Because their head is covered up. Covered up in sin, in denial, in rejection, in unbelief. 

How is this veil removed? Through faith in Christ, through repentance, and forgiveness of sins that Jesus won on the cross. The solution for such “blindness” is in the open proclamation of Jesus Christ through which “light would shine out in darkness to affect enlightenment” (4:6).  You cannot remove this veil, but the Lord has removed it from you through faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of your sins.

Listen now to the words of the Benediction, from Numbers 6, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  This isn’t a question. This isn’t a “maybe” this will happen.  This is a blessing given from God to His people, that the glory of God, in the face of Jesus, is for you.

The Hebrew word for face is also the word to be in the presence of, in the sense to be in front of your face.  To see God’s face is to be in front of Him, to enter His presence, which typically in the Old Testament referred to visiting the temple for worship.  As blind people, we can’t just open up our eyes and see what it right in front of us.  Our eyes have to be opened, our sight restored.  Jesus unveils God face to us.  To be unveiled is to see God’s face, the face of Jesus, to be in His presence, which happens in worship as He comes to us through His Word and Sacrament.

Listen to the first verse of one of our Communion hymns, “Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face; Here would I touch and handle things unseen; Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, And all my weariness upon Thee lean” (LSB 631:1).  While we live here and now, this revelation of the glory of God in Jesus doesn’t quite fit our grandiose picture of God’s majesty.  Easy to lose focus during this time of the year, veil the cross of Christ from our lives. Both in the great suffering that Jesus underwent on the cross and the glory of the cross.

The veil of darkness has been lifted from your through faith in Christ.  For the glory of His divine majesty scatters the darkness of your sin, the devil, and death itself.   While we still see through a mirror dimly, then we will see face to face.  As we journey with Jesus throughout the upcoming Lenten season, as He sets His face toward the cross, so upon the cross, He set His face upon you so that your sins are forgiven. 

Mark 1:29-39 "Jesus Comes Today With Healing"

Mark 1:29-39

Jesus Comes Today With Healing

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost B

February 8, 2015


 “They brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons… And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” Ah, wouldn’t it be nice to have been back then with Jesus.  That’s some kind of health care, right there! You have a bad back? Go see Jesus. Bronchitis, allergies? Run down and see Jesus. Cancer, heart disease? No problem. He’ll heal you.

We hear how healing in Jesus’ ministry was very important and He did it often, so what about us?  Everyone of us in this room probably knows someone who is sick, who is battling cancer, heart disease, the ravages of old age.  What about us?  Did Jesus just close up shop and stop all the healing?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus comes today with healing.

Our Gospel reading for today continues on from last week’s, where on the Sabbath day, after He had taught in the synagogue and healing a man with an unclean spirit, Jesus continued on to the house of Simon and Andrew, where they come across Simon’s mother-in-law, who had a fever.  Jesus goes to her, took her by her hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 

This is the same type of thing that Jesus does to us. God descends with heavenly power and brings healing. He takes His people by the hand, lifts them up, to be in service to our neighbor and to Him. He uses Dr., nurses, science, intellect to help bring physical healing to those in the world.  Yet, Jesus brings healing today that is much more complete, much more permanent, and much more restorative. Jesus comes today with healing, for as He says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  

Sinners we are in need of healing.  It is because of this very fact that healing lies at the very center of the Church’s ministry, for in these ways Jesus reveals Himself as the Son of God. The very purpose of the Church is to bring God’s healing to the world to overcome the rift between God and humanity which is caused by our sin and leads that death, to reveal to the world that this Jesus is the Son of God.  This is achieved for us when Christ comes to us with healing, when we become one with Him and with one another as the body of Christ. Everything that we do as the Church, all our sacramental and liturgical life, all our teaching, is directed at restoring the proper relationship between God and creation, which has been corrupted through our sinfulness. Isaiah 53:5, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

In Baptism, Jesus leads us to abandon our own life in which we were under the sway of sin and death, and enter into a new life, where sin and death have been defeated. In Baptism, we enter into a new relationship with God in which sin, sickness, and death no longer dominate. We become children of God, heirs of the Kingdom, members of Christ’s body, the Church. This new relationship is to endure forever, and neither sickness nor death can destroy it. Baptism, therefore, is the sacrament of healing, a healing aimed at the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, in which your sins are forgiven and the life of Christ bestowed.

The sickness and death which once ruled our lives are defeated by Christ and the eternal Kingdom of God is now opened to you. The brokenness of our human existence is abolished as we are incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, through which we are saved. We are no longer left to live out our lives alone, to suffer and die a meaningless death. Rather, in the Church, our suffering and death become a means to victory, following in the footsteps of Christ, His death on the cross and His resurrection. Through Baptism, we are healed, and we are charged to bring this healing ministry to the world around us: to our family, to our neighbor, to all whom we encounter.

While Baptism is the means by which we become members of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Sacrament of the Altar is the means by which this membership is realized and continues to be lived out. We are brought from the font to the Altar. We are the Church precisely when we gather together, Sunday after Sunday, to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection on our behalf. In the Sacrament, we not only remember these events, but we become partakers of Christ’s body and blood, receiving His grace “for the healing of soul and body.” Our sickness and our sin drives us to the medicine of eternal life.  This isn’t “take a pill and call me in the morning” kind of issue.  While we still live in this sinful and fallen world, we need this medicine on a regular basis.

As the result of this healing which we have, how can we not be like Peter’s mother-in-law, who simply got up and began to serve.  To serve the Lord and to serve one another.  Not because she has to, but because that is who she is.  She has been healed, lifted up by Christ, and the opportunity to serve is there.  How do you serve them?  By being a good husband, and a good wife. By being a good neighbor.  By telling Jesus about others who are sick and suffering, so that through they too might receive the same medicine, the same healing as we have.  To take the message of Christ into the world. 

As the body of Christ, we are to do what Christ does, to go where our head turns. We are to take the hands of those sick in this world, sick with fevers, or simply sick with sin.  Bringing them the mercy of Christ and the healing that He gives as the ushers in the reign of God, in the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mark 1.21-28 "The Last Word"

Mark 1:21-28

The Last Word

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 1, 2015


For centuries, the ancient city of Fengdu was known throughout China as the city of the dead.  According to legend, the gates of hell were located there, and so was thought to be the home of the devil.  The city sat on the banks of the Yangtze River, until several years ago when the Three Gorges Dam was built, flooding the town.  After the people of the city were relocated, citizens placed signs around the city counting down the days until the town would be destroyed.  Many of these signs portrayed the image of the devil as a symbol of the city.  The days of Fengdu were limited, and so were the days of the devil. The flood would wash over the city as well as obliterate the gates of hell and its lord, the devil.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the floodgates have opened.  With the coming of Jesus, has come the beginning of the end of the devil’s hold on sinful humanity.  Jesus has come ushering in the kingdom and reign of God, bringing with Him forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In doing so, He breaks the devil’s grip.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against the building up of Christ’s church.  The first miracle of Jesus recorded in Mark’s Gospel is this exorcism, making it clear that Jesus comes to destroy sin and the power of the devil.  This unclean spirit knows who Jesus is. There is no doubt in his statement, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

In a sense, Jesus has invaded the devil’s turf, and the demon responds to the threat that Jesus represents.  “What have you to do with us” is a common statement in Jesus’ day basically meaning, “You have nothing to do with me. Stop meddling in my affairs. This is none of your business.”  But this is exactly Jesus’ business.  This is exactly why Jesus has come, because of the uncleanliness of the world brought about by sin.  Jesus’ words spoken with authority and power still cause a stir today.

How often do we try to say this to Jesus when he shows up in our lives.  “What are you doing here, Jesus. I don’t really want you around, what I am doing or thinking is none of your business.”  We may not have a demon, but what has come out of our hearts has dirtied both body and soul.  “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). All these come from the depths of our heart.  They are not merely mistakes or bad choices – it is sin.  That which misses the mark falls short of the glory of God.  It hurts and defiles others, and it hurts and defiles you.  Sin makes you unclean.

We are always tempted to be like this man with an unclean spirit.  We’re tempted with thoughts, “I have my opinion, you have yours.  Who are you to tell me that I’m wrong.” We’re tempted to speak when we should be silent.  We’re tempted to accuse others in order to justify ourselves.  We’re tempted to explain away our uncleanness making use of our own words as though our words have the power and authority to excuse us and our actions before God and our neighbor.  There is no excuse for sin. There are no words you can speak, no works you can do, no way you can justify yourself, save yourself, or cleanse yourself, no matter how hard you try, no matter how pious your intentions, no matter how strong your love.  You cannot cleanse your dirty heart.

So what are we to do? CFW Walther, the first president of the LCMS and of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, used to say to seminary students, “We have no power but the power of the Word, but we have the power of the Word.”  Jesus casts out demons by His Word. The same word that created all things, now restores all things. And that same Word is still proclaimed for all the world to hear and believe.

When it comes to sin. When it comes to the devil.  When it comes to your dirty heart, Jesus has the last word in the matter.  His Word does not just stop there, but continues to enliven, continues to guide, continues to cleanse you throughout your whole life.  His Word is still proclaimed with the same power and the same authority.  While, hopefully, none us here are possessed with an unclean spirit, and we may not see exorcisms all that often in our culture, we do experience that same powerful word each Sunday, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Through faith in Christ, the dirtiness of your sin is forgiven.

But even then, His Word does not stop.  Not even the uncleanness of being buried in a dirt 6 feet under can mute Jesus’ Word.  For from that grave of yours, you will hear Jesus have the last and final word. Arise, live, come you are cleansed by the blood of Lamb.  The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Acts 9:1-22 The Conversion of St. Paul


Acts 9:1-22

Conversion of St. Paul

January 25, 2015

If we were to take a poll on what one of the biggest fears that we face, somewhere near the top would be terrorism. We hear about it all over the news: the Charlie Hebdo sadness, bombings, kidnappings. Terrorism, by definition, creates terror, fear, and the like.  This is a fact of life for us, through wars, heightened security measures, and it has been in the forefront for the past 15 years.

There once was a religious radical, an extremist, a zealot about his religion, who lived the Middle East.  He felt so strongly about his religion that he persecuting those who disagreed with his religious beliefs. He would not allow any form of mockery or challenges to his God or to his beliefs.  So he took the fight to any and all who twist what he thought to be the truth or who would reject his religion.  He was totally convinced that he was doing the right thing, the good thing.  His mission in life was, in fact, to specifically terrorize Christians. This man was trained by the best, smart, ruthless, uncompromising. He oversaw capture, torture, and murder of God knows how many Christians. 

We often ask ourselves how this can really be.  While we hear of this happening .  The problem is that many people don’t really believe in evil, even we don’t always believe in evil.  But evil, I mean real evil, is a real thing.  Ignore, or misunderstand, and it will kill you.  Slow or fast, it’s like a cancer.  Remove some but not all and it will still be deadly.  Evil forces make evil men do evil things.  Evil can’t be negotiated with.

One day, this terrorist still breathing threats and murder against Christians got official go ahead from his government to arrest any Christian who he came across.  And as he was going to Damascus, he heard a voice.  This voice did not negotiate.  It didn’t ask Him to stop, It didn’t compromise or bargain; it simply condemned.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me.” Jesus’ own words condemn Saul’s hardened heart: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  Saul was well intentioned, justified in his own mind by his own opinion on what is good and evil.  But misguided by his own sinfulness and hatred, a perfect example that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Saul didn’t realize his own evil because of his own sinfulness. He didn’t realize that persecuting Christians is the same as persecuting Christ Himself, as we are the body of Christ.  He misunderstood evil, and good, and was blindsided by how wrong a person could actually be.  It takes a miracle for Saul, and for us, to learn that true righteousness comes only through Jesus, who is the Christ.

While Saul terrorized Christians, what he didn’t realize was that he was the one being terrorized. Being terrorized by the constant need and desire to be perfect, to do everything just right, to follow all the traditions of men without exception. The true terror which is felt is declared so by the Law of God. It is a terror brought on by the stark realization that no matter how good you, it’s not good enough.  No matter how zealous you are, you aren’t zealous enough. But Jesus is, and He is for you.

When Jesus came to Saul, he wasn’t given more rules to follow. Jesus didn’t tell him what he had to do in order to be a better person.  He called him to repentance and to faith, to be a chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus before the Gentiles and kinds and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15).

St. Paul’s conversion shows once again that no one is beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace! When Jesus comes, He changes people. This is part of Paul’s point to the Galatians, to the people of God in every place and every time.  We don’t change the Gospel, but the Gospel changes us.  What we need is not good advice for moral improvement.  The gospel is not good advice from man; it is good news from God – Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Law.  He has perfectly lived the life that you cannot. He has perfectly freed you from the bondage to the Law, so that you may serve Him with joy and gladness, proclaiming His name to the world.  He had perfectly died, so that death no longer terrorizes. He has perfectly risen from the dead, so that you may live.

Though maybe not as dramatic or earth shattering, that same miracle of conversion that happen to Saul happens to every baptized member of Christ’s body. This happened to Dahlyla Whitney today in her baptism.  In St. Paul’s letter to Titus, he writes of this very thing, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…”  Just as Saul was converted from death to life, so too each of us has been changed by God in the waters of our Baptism and as the Word comes to us during the roads of our lives. 

Let no one question your salvation whether it came so quietly or dramatically. For that depends on Christ, and not on you. Yes, Saul had a dramatic experience.  But it wasn’t the scales over his eyes, it wasn’t his resolution to follow God, that made Him the great apostle Paul.  It was the gift of faith in Christ that Christ Himself gives. That is what truly what made Saul a Christian.  It was God Himself coming to a man filled with evil through His Word to change him into one who would proclaim Christ and Him crucified to the world.

With this calling that Jesus has given you, though you may suffer much for the sake of His name, there is no terror that Jesus has not overcome.  Not the terror of evil men, not the terror of a guilty conscience, not the terror of sin, death, or the devil himself.  For Christ has taken terror itself to the cross and crucified with His flesh.  

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpower us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage, His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail, one little word subdues him.  God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes, who fear it; For God Himself fights by our side With weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse, though life be wretched away, they cannot win the day, the Kingdom’s ours forever” (LSB 657:3-4). In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mark 8:27-35 - The Confession of St. Peter


Mark 8:27-35

The Elephant Speaks

Confession of St. Peter

January 18, 2015


Four blind men are out for a walk and come across an elephant.  Not knowing what it is, they each decide to touch it to figure out what they had come across. The first one felt the trunk and declared, “it is a snake.”  The second grabbed a leg and declared “it is a tree.” The third grabbed the tail and said, “it is a rope.” The fourth touched its side and said, “it is a wall.”  Now, the four men begin to argue over who is right and who is wrong as they try to describe this animal to one another.  The problem is, they couldn’t agree. They argued over and over again about what this animal looks like.  

This is a metaphor that is sometimes used in relationship to Christianity and to God.  We look around in the world and have so many different opinions about who God is, so many different denominations, so many different ways to worship. It is sometimes hard to figure out what is going on, why there is so much division and arguing.

This is nothing new, and it is this sort of thinking that is the backdrop for our Gospel reading today.  As Jesus and His disciples are going about, He asks them this question, “Who do people say that I am?”  They answered, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”  It seems as though there is no real way to know who this Jesus is.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the elephant has spoken.  We are not left groping around in the dark trying to figure out what God is like. He tells us what He is like. This is the point of Epiphany season that we are in.  We are not left guessing who Jesus is. Instead, Jesus speaks. He reveals Himself.  Not just in the red letters of the Bible, but also in the black.  He comes down into the darkness of the world and reveals Himself to us.

The question faced with us today, then, is the same one that Jesus then asks of His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” There is a right way to answer that, and there is a wrong way.  The wrong way is to simply describe what we feel, or add up what everyone else feels to try to get an understanding.  The Christian faith is not based upon feelings.  The right way of answering this question is by confessing back to God what He speaks to us.  This is in part why our worship service is made up of almost completely Scripture.  Because the Bible is God’s Word that He speaks to us, then there is nothing else better to hear and to speak God’s Word.

There’s a lot that we can say and talk about as Christians.  But ultimately what we say, what we confess, is what God has revealed to us about Himself.  This is what Peter says in response to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ.”  This, this, is the answer, and the only answer to the question that Jesus poses, as well as the foundation of our faith.

Jesus is the Christ.  Though Peter makes this bold and true confession, he doesn’t completely understand what this means.  So the elephant has to speak once more, teaching that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

But this doesn’t sit well with Peter, just like an elephant telling blind men what he looks like doesn’t sit well with them when they cannot see. We have this problem sometimes too.  We don’t always understand God’s revelation to us, or worse, we simply don’t like it.  We only want to focus on one part of God’s revelation to us, like focusing on the love of God without talking about His wrath. Or calling sin “sin” ought of fear that it might offend.  Our sinful selves don’t want a crucified Christ.  We don’t want One who suffers, but only the One who can overcome my suffering.  And yet Christ crucified for the for the forgiveness of sins is the Church’s one foundation and our cornerstone.

Jesus’ identity as the Christ who must suffer and die for the life of the world turns everything upside down.  Temptation to avoid the cross is great.  Both the cross of Christ and the cross you must bear as His follower.  But rest assure, there can be no case of a mistaken identity.  For Jesus has come into the world, proclaiming this Good News that sins are forgiven and eternal life is won by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.  And this is now your confession as well, and the truth on which our faith is founded.  For whoever would come after Him must deny Himself and take up His cross and follow Him.  Where does this Christ go?  To suffering.  To rejection.  To the cross.  To the resurrection.  So where should we expect to go?  To suffering.  To rejection. To the cross.  Only through following Christ to the cross can we then follow Him in the resurrection. 

His Spirit works in us the faith of that claim.  Such a confession is the point of the Creeds, and why we say them each week.  To define the faith, to answer Jesus’ question “who do people say I am?” correctly.  To defend the faith against wrong belief, of answering Jesus’ question wrong.  Jesus is not just another prophet. He is not just a man teaching morality. He is not just God pretending to be a man.  And to declare the faith, like Peter preaching to the people of Jerusalem in Acts 4. This Jesus is the One who was crucified, who was raised from the dead, is the cornerstone of the church, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Mark 1:4-11 "How Are You Named"


Mark 1:4-11

How Are You Named

Baptism of our Lord

January 11, 2015

This last week as I had the chance to preach at Lutheran Church of Prayer in Bakersfield, CA there were many people who came up to me to introduce themselves.  “What’s your name.” A simple question.  A question we often ask, and even more often answer. Names are not for us.  We do not call ourselves by our names; others do.  So our name exists so that others may know what to call us, may know us.

It is no different for God.  We would not know who God was if He did not tell us.  We would not know who His Son is unless He tells us.  And so He does as Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan River with John the Baptist. In the waters of the Jordan, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”  Here is the Father’s affirmation of Jesus, calling Him His very Son.  Not so that Jesus knows this, but so that you and I would hear this proclamation from God and believe. The Gospel according to Mark begins this way, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Jesus epiphanies Himself so that we would believe that this Jesus is the One who was present at Creation, who became man, is the One who would suffer and die to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.

The baptism of John the Baptist was one of preparation, preparing God’s people for the coming of the Lord.  Though He had no sin, Jesus was baptized by John as Israel reduced to One man.  You see, the Jordan was the chief river of Israel and her land, but more importantly functioned as a border.  It was the location of the beginning of Israel’s new life under Joshua. After wandering around the desert for 40 years under the leadership of Moses, God’s people finally enter into the promised land going first through the river Jordan. Jesus is now reenacting the life of God’s people, identifying with our sinful condition, something which He continues to do throughout His life, into His death and finally His resurrection.  As He is the Son beloved of the Father, so by being connected to Him, we become children beloved of the Father.

Our baptism is where this happens. Jesus placed Himself in the Jordan River, so that in Christian Baptism He might place us inside Himself. It is where His name is now placed upon us, His name becomes ours. The name of the Triune God is a powerful thing, for it is the name of the God who created the world, who sustains the world, and who saves the world.  So the splash of water that might seem ordinary, is extraordinary because it is water with the name of God, instituted and commanded by Him.

In the rite of baptism, near the beginning, just after the question “how are you named” the sign of the cross is placed upon the heart and forehead of the one to be baptized to mark them as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  A simple, yet powerful, blessing directing us to what God is doing in those blessed waters of Baptism.  He is marking you as His own. He marks you with water. He marks you with His Word. Here too God opens up heaven to announce to us that you are beloved, you are pleasing to the Lord.  You are forgiven of your sins, washed clean in the blood of Christ. The name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are given to you.

So there you have it.  Heaven is opened at Jesus’ baptism, and heaven is opened to us at our baptism into Jesus.  Now, because we are baptized into Him, we are connected to His life and His death.  This isn’t just so that you know who you are, but that the world knows who you are, and whose you are.  God the Father calls Jesus His beloved Son. God calls you His beloved child because of His Son.  You are now named “Christian,” one connected to Christ Jesus our Lord, born of baptism and confessed in word and deed, and marked by the gathering of the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord. 

Because we are connected to Him, we have a place at His heavenly feast.  Today, and as often as possible, we come to the table of the Lord not of our own desire but listening to the Word of the beloved Son of God and His revealing Himself to us in His very body and blood.  It is the fellowship of the faithful, of those united together in faith in Christ, and it is no casual meal.  We come here discerning the real, sacramental presence of Christ in the bread and in the cup, His flesh and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sin. 

CFW Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, explained it well, especially in light of the new year: “Now then, all of you who believe in God's Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: ‘I am baptized!’ Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence... nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: ‘I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!’ And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever. Amen!” Treasury of Daily Prayer